So your church decides it wants to transform its community, to be a part of God’s redemptive work, bringing the Kingdom into its fullness right in your church’s backyard. What do you do? Where do you start? Obviously you engage your congregation in prayer and fasting as a first step. So then what?
I attended a workshop led by Rusty Eshleman, who is on the staff of Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church’s Fort McKinley congregation. Four years ago, Fort McKinley UMC, located in Dayton, Ohio, was down to about 40 people, few of whom lived in the church’s neighborhood. The church voted to allow the larger Ginghamsburg UMC to take over the church. Since then the Fort McKinley UMC is averaging over 400 people in worship each week, reaching people who primarily live in the church’s neighborhood. So how does an exiting church impact and transform it neighborhood? Here are some step Rusty shared…
Asset-based Community Development (ABCD)
- Identify a 15-block area and ask yourself what it would mean to be a good neighbor.
- Listen for needs.
- Identify assets. Look for people—leaders, talents, empty building or blocks, townships, elected officials, businesses, neighborhood associations, property managers, schools, etc.
- Discover what people care about. Become a student of your target area. Involve neighbors in discovering the solutions to the community’s challenges.
- Connect and mobilize people. For example, send out teams to collect information about new residents their needs and assets.
- Lead by getting out of the way. Empower those in the neighborhood to do it.
According to John Perkins, who wrote Restoring At-Risk Communities, remember that it takes time. He says at least 15 years. So, perhaps the first question your church needs to ask itself is are we really committed long term? I hope its answer is “Yes!”
— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development
P.S. Here are some helpful resources:
- Jobs for Life is an 18-week Christian-based training that helps those chronically unemployed prepare for the job market, partnering with area businesses. It matches students with 16-month Champions (mentors).
- Americorp Interns can provide one-year help.
- The Asset-based Community Development Institute has some helpful printed resources.
- The United Methodist Church for All People, in Columbus, OH, can also provide a church with significant help.